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Zum nets $140M from GIC, Sequoia to turn school buses into batteries

Illustration of a school bus with two electrical outlets on the roof

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

School bus operator Zum raised $140 million from GIC, Sequoia and SoftBank to convert battery-powered buses into roving power plants.

Why it matters: School buses are the largest transit system in the U.S. — and as they go electric, they can become a major source of energy for the grid.

Details: GIC, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, led Zum's Series E, which pushed the company's valuation past $1.3 billion.

  • Climate Investment and existing investors Sequoia and Softbank Vision Fund 2 joined.

Of note: Zum provides student transportation to about 4,000 U.S. schools, and it uses software to plot the most efficient routes.

  • Amid a national shortage of bus drivers, figuring out how to pick up the most students with the fewest drivers is no small feat.
  • It also reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

How it works: Zum, based in Redwood City, California, plans to add vehicle-to-grid charging capabilities.

  • V2G allows an electric vehicle to send electricity to a house, some other building, or even the grid itself.
  • Those grid-connected vehicles can be bundled together to create a "virtual power plant" supplying power to the electricity network.

State of play: The Biden administration has announced nearly $1 billion in funding for school districts to trade rumbling diesel buses for electric models.

  • The effort promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. It also unlocks potential revenue streams for school districts and bus operators.

What they're saying: "For the first time ever, school buses that would otherwise be sitting idle in bus depots can now be put to work during evenings and summers and send energy back to the grid," Zum said in a statement.

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